After Tampa Bay’s 4-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday night, there was one glaring question ahead of Thursday’s series finale: What happened to the Rays’ big bats?

Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena, the franchise’s two young cornerstones, were absolutely silent, going a combined 0-for-9. Franco had 11 hits in the first five games of the season, but he went 0-for-5 on Wednesday.

Tampa Bay first baseman Ji-Man Choi delivered his second home run of the season, but the Rays need Franco and Arozarena to bounce back quickly. The ideal time would be Thursday afternoon in St. Petersburg, Fla., as the Rays aim for a series split. Their seven-game homestand began with three consecutive wins against the Baltimore Orioles.

Franco’s early-season batting average is still a sizzling .440, but Arozarena’s start to the season is much more puzzling. After going 0-for-4, Arozarena is hitting an anemic .182.

Not to be overlooked is the work by Oakland ace Frankie Montas, whose fastball was in the mid-90s. Montas went 6 1/3 innings, allowing just five hits two runs, one earned. He struck out six and walked none as he earned his first win of the season.

The Rays got a good outing from ace left-hander Shane McClanahan, but after he retired the first two batters in the third inning, two walks set up a three-run home run by Sean Murphy. That marked Oakland’s fourth three-run home run in the series, and the A’s also launched a grand slam vs. the Rays.

“We’re just getting beat up by the three-run homer right now,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “(Montas) just got stronger as the game went on. When you’re facing a guy like Montas, that will get you in a hole pretty quick.”

After Thursday’s game, the Rays will travel to Chicago for a six-game road trip, three games each with the White Sox and the Cubs.

Following some uncertainty about who would start Thursday’s game for Tampa Bay, Cash removed all doubt on Wednesday, saying that left-hander Josh Fleming (1-0, 0.00 ERA) would get the call against fellow southpaw Cole Irvin (0-1, 6.75).

Fleming pitched a 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief while striking out five against Baltimore on Saturday. The same day, Irvin took the loss while giving up four runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Irvin has not found success against the Rays previously, losing his two previous starts against them, both last season. He yielded six runs (five earned) over 12 innings in those outings. One of those starts was at Tropicana Field, where he allowed two runs in six innings while striking out eight.

Fleming has never faced the A’s.

Oakland’s 10-game road trip to start the season will end with three games in Toronto over the weekend. The A’s have gone 3-3 overall against the Phillies and the Rays. They won’t have their home opener until Monday against Baltimore to open a four-game series. Then Texas comes to town for three games.

–Field Level Media